Johnny Cueto will make first start since late June on Monday evening against the Astros

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The Reds have a nice cushion on the Nationals for the second NL Wild Card spot and are only 2 1/2 games back in the National League Central division.

Now comes a potential boost for the rotation.

According to C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer, right-hander Johnny Cueto will start for the first time since June 28 this Monday in the Reds’ series-opener against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Cueto was out for about two and a half months with a strained right lat muscle and did not have the luxury of making a rehab start, so Reds manager Dusty Baker is trying to keep expectations low.

“We’ll see what we can get out of him,” Baker told the Enquirer on Sunday morning. “It’s worth a try, because he’s Johnny Cueto. The more we get out of him (Monday) and the more we get out of him the next time, maybe who knows what he’ll be ready for come playoff time.”

Cueto boasts a 2.67 ERA (151 ERA+) in 421 2/3 innings since the start of the 2011 season, but he’s made three different trips to the disabled list since switching to his Luis Tiant-style mechanics.

Report: Steven Matz has been pitching through pain, may need elbow surgery

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Newsday’s Marc Carig reports that Mets starter Steven Matz has been pitching through pain for most of the season. He may need surgery to fix a nerve issue in his elbow. Matz was sidelined in spring training with an elbow injury and made his regular season debut on June 10.

Matz, 26, has struggled over 13 starts, posting a 6.08 ERA with a 48/19 K/BB ratio in 66 2/3 innings. Many were scrambling for explanations for his pitching woes and now they have it.

According to Carig, the Mets let Matz skip his bullpen sessions to help him pitch through the pain. Given the Mets’ shoddy history of dealing with injuries, that’s not a good look for the club.

Carig noted on Twitter that Jacob deGrom offers some optimism for Matz’s case. deGrom underwent right elbow surgery to repair ulnar nerve damage last September and bounced back to have a great season this year.

Clayton Kershaw’s simulated game went so well he threw an extra inning

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Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw was scheduled to throw three innings in a simulated game on Monday. That simulated game went so well, he threw an extra inning, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports. Kershaw will make a minor league rehab start next and could be activated towards the end of next week.

Kershaw, 29, has been on the disabled list since July 24 with a lower back strain. That put the pause button on another outstanding season. He’s carrying a 15-2 record with a 2.04 ERA and a 168/24 K/BB ratio in 141 1/3 innings.

The 87-35 Dodgers have run away with the NL West, needing some combination of 20 wins and 20 Rockies losses (19 for the third-place Diamondbacks) to officially clinch the division. While the Dodgers are all but mathematically assured of reaching postseason baseball, the club would still like to get Kershaw as ready as possible over the next month-plus.